Reprinted with permission from Altare Dei, a new journal of Catholic art, music and culture.
And so, no married priests, no ordaining "viri probati," and no deaconesses. Those who hoped that such a "turning point" was going to happen (such as those who support the German "synodal weg") are probably disappointed. While those who feared it can say: We have escaped the danger, at least for now.
In fact, with regard to the two flash points that have given rise to so much discussion, the post-synodal apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis does not accept the contents of the synod's final document, except minimally and in a nuanced way. Although he recommends reading it, it is as if between the lines Francis distances himself from it.
At a certain point the pope seems to remove a pebble from his shoe by defending his choice to bring the Pachamama into the Vatican (this issue too has caused a great amount of debate):
Let us not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples. ... It is possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry (78,79).
But, apart from this, the exhortation is so prudent as to appear circumspect.
On the thorny issue of priestly celibacy (we recall the affair of the book written by Cdl. Sarah and Benedict XVI) Francis limits himself to recommending that bishops commit themselves to promote vocations and encourage the missionary spirit: "In the specific circumstances of the Amazon region, particularly in its forests and more remote places, a way must be found to ensure this priestly ministry" (89). And again:
If we are truly convinced that this is the case, then every effort should be made to ensure that the Amazonian peoples do not lack this food of new life and the sacrament of forgiveness. This urgent need leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America, not only to promote prayer for priestly vocations, but also to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region (89,90).
The word "celibacy" never appears in the text. Indeed, Pope Francis reiterates that only the priest can celebrate the Eucharist, absolve sins and administer anointing of the sick; and the possible extension of ordination to married viri probati is not even mentioned.
Regarding the role of women, Francis — who recommends avoiding every form of clericalization (if we admitted them to Holy Orders it would lead us to "clericalize women" and "reduce our understanding of the Church to functional structures") — writes:
In a synodal Church, those women who in fact have a central part to play in Amazonian communities should have access to positions, including ecclesial services, that do not entail Holy Orders and that can better signify the role that is theirs. Here it should be noted that these services entail stability, public recognition and a commission from the bishop. This would also allow women to have a real and effective impact on the organization, the most important decisions and the direction of communities, while continuing to do so in a way that reflects their womanhood (103).
In short, it is difficult to dispel the impression that the apostolic exhortation was written, so to speak, with the handbrake pulled — at least compared to the fanfare with which the Amazon Synod was announced and then took place.
Francis forms four "great dreams": that the Amazon "fights for the rights of the poor," that it "can preserve its distinctive cultural riches," that it "can jealously preserve its overwhelming natural beauty," and finally that the Christian communities may be "capable of generous commitment, incarnate in the Amazon region" (7).
The pope emphasizes the importance of "a true ecological approach" and denounces injustices against the indigenous peoples. He asks that the poor will be listened to and that we find the capacity to become indignant and ask forgiveness. He rejects the consumerist vision of the human being that tends to homologize culture and recommends "recovering the wounded memory." He asks that diversity may not be "a border" but "a bridge." What needs to happen is "assuming the perspective of the rights of peoples."
Regarding the fourth "dream," the "eccclesial" dream, the pope calls for "developing a Church with an Amazonian face" by means of a "great missionary proclamation" because these peoples have "the right to the proclamation of the gospel."
Because of the poverty of so many inhabitants of the Amazon, inculturation must have "a strongly social stamp," but without ever forgetting the need to integrate the social dimension with the spiritual.
Also regarding the liturgy, Francis sticks to generalities: He emphasizes that the Second Vatican Council asked for an effort of "inculturation of the liturgy of the indigenous peoples," and in a footnote he recalls that during the synod "the proposal to elaborate an Amazonian rite emerged," but he says no more.
Was the prudence of Francis perhaps induced by the book in defense of priestly celibacy written by Cdl. Sarah with Benedict XVI and published just before the publication of Querida Amazonia? And how will the progressive circles that pushed for substantial changes now continue their efforts?
Professor Roberto de Mattei, making a sharp comment, writes:
At this point, someone will recall Pope Francis' strategy of two steps forward and one step back, but when a train is traveling at high speed, a sudden braking can cause it to derail, ending the journey in a dramatic manner. The revolutionary process is a social mechanism that often becomes uncontrollable and overwhelms those driving the train.
Time will tell. At the moment, what has resulted is the desire of Francis to patch up a fissure that was taking on ever more fully the aspect of an irreparable fracture between the two souls of the Church.
This article was first published at Altare Dei, a new journal of Catholic art, music and culture.
Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino @pellegrino2020